Australia great Ricky Ponting has revealed he wasn’t surprised by the controversial omission of star batter Travis Head and believes experienced opener David Warner requires some runs soon if he doesn't want to suffer the same fate.
Head managed three half-centuries during Australia's recent Test series at home to South Africa, but Ponting was not surprised he was left out by selectors given the bevy of left-handers in Australia’s top-order.
“I've actually been wondering what they might do with their line-up,” Ponting admitted.
“The fact that they played Matt Renshaw in Sydney (in the last Test), to me meant that they had probably had other plans in mind for him.
“If they're going to keep him in, they couldn't really afford to keep Travis Head in either, because they would've had five left-handers in their top seven, which probably would've played into Ravi Ashwin’s hands. Ashwin loves, as we know, bowling to left-handers.
“The other side of it is that Travis' record outside of Australia, and particularly in the subcontinent, is nowhere near as good. So when you put all those pieces together, I actually wasn't that surprised.”
Praise for Handscomb
Head’s omission opened doors for forgotten batter Peter Handscomb to play his first Test match since 2019 and the right-hander looked solid on return with a hard-fought 31 batting at number six.
Ponting said Handscomb inclusion was a “horses for courses” selection.
“He's had a couple of really good years of (domestic) Sheffield Shield cricket,” Ponting said. “He's captain of Victoria. I think he might've been the leading run-scorer in the Shield competition last year. He started this year really well.
“So, he's done everything he can to get back into the Australian squad. But the one thing that's been in his favour is the fact that this series is in India. If this series had been in England or in South Africa, for instance, then I don't think Handscomb would've got picked.”
Forgive Renshaw for first-ball failure
Renshaw, another surprising pick over Head in the Nagpur Test, made a golden duck after falling prey to Ravi Jadeja’s left-arm spin a ball after the spinner sent back Marnus Labuschagne a delivery earlier.
“That was a part of the puzzle that I was talking about as to why I thought Travis might have missed out in this Test match,” Ponting said. “I know the reason that the Australian selectors have picked Matt Renshaw is they believe he's a very good player of spin bowling.”
“It's one thing to be known and identified as a good spin-bowling player when you're playing in Australia. But when you get to India and you're coming up against such foreign conditions – even today, you know, it's day one of a Test match and you're seeing conditions that most of our guys probably have never witnessed before on the first day of a game.
“That's when you start to work out who the really good quality players of spin are. I know he was out first ball today. I'll forgive him of that.”
David Warner’s form
Warner was cleaned up by Mohammad Shami, bowling from around the wicket, in the third over of the day for one as Australia were reduced to 2/2 at the start of the crucial ICC World Test Championship series.
Warner’s overall record away from home in Test cricket isn’t the most compelling. The left-hander has accumulated 2994 runs at a middling average of 33.64 away from home. But in India, it dips further to 22.88.
Ponting said it’s imperative for Warner to score runs in the first half of the series.
“I think he averages 24 in India, something like that, from about eight Test matches,” Ponting said.
“Today nine Test matches – well, eight-and-a-half, he's got another (innings) yet – but that average would've dipped down again today. He's one of the players that has come out and said that winning in India, as far as he's concerned, would be maybe even bigger than winning an Ashes series.
“So, if the selectors and the coach and the captain, if they are so hell-bent on winning this series and a couple of their batters for the first few games don't fire, then I think they have to have a look at picking who they think is their best line-up going forward.
“I think Head's been left out of this Test match because of his record in the subcontinent, plus the amount of left-handers that Australia have in their side. So you could probably say the same thing about David Warner.
“The other thing on the back of it, unfortunately for David, is that he also hasn't got a great record in England. The next Test series they play is very soon after this one finishes, obviously with an IPL in the middle.
“David knows in his own heart of hearts that he needs to score some runs in the first part of this series.”